Eventually, my father succeeded in convincing her to take her seat and calm down.
A white handkerchief mysteriously appeared from somewhere on Mrs. Williams’ person, and she began to dab furiously at her eyes. Then, she decided that maybe she should resume begging, but my father foresaw it and leaping to his feet, told her to stay seated.
At that point, I could tell my father was conflicted.
He would have wanted my mother to be there to support him, but she had already stated her position with respect to Mrs. Williams. This raw display of vulnerability and helplessness by Mrs. Williams completely disarmed my father, but it might not have had the same effect on my mother who was tougher to deal with than my father.
So, Mrs. Williams sat down and awaited my father’s verdict.
But not in silence. No.
She kept talking in spurts.
“Tokunbo … He has no father. I mean, his father left us. His uncles don’t care. They never liked me before I married their brother, Tokunbo’s father. And Tokunbo too … He doesn’t listen. Even if … e jo … Daddy, e ran mi lowo, sir! Look at your own sons. They listen to you.”
“Madam, it is by God’s special grace alone that me and my wife have raised these children. It’s not our doing.”
“Yes, sir. But you can help. Please don’t let my son lose his way. Don’t let this boy become a vagabond.”
Seeing that these words were the likely precursor to a fresh round of pleading coupled with heavy sobbing, my father preempted the emotional landslide by holding up his hands and telling her to calm down before saying:
“Alright, Madam. So, how do I help?”
That was all she had been waiting for. Her tearful voice suddenly became sharp and even retained some of the grit we had come to associate with Mrs. Williams.
“Yes, sir … I was wondering if maybe you could … could mentor him, sir.”
“Mentor? How? We’re not even related and how are you sure that’s all he needs?”
“He listens to you sir. Right now, that is plenty. And you live right next door to us.”
“But isn’t Tokunbo in Ijanikin? How will I mentor or advise him from here?”
“Emmm … You see, sir, this will be Tokunbo’s last term at Ijanikin. I have made arrangements to transfer him to a private school nearby.”
“Oh, so he won’t be in boarding house again?”
“No, sir. He’ll be a day student, going to school from home so that at least, I can keep an eye on him.”
“I see …. I see,” said my father. I could tell that he was weighing the options and processing what Mrs. Williams had just told him.
A long silence followed, punctuated every now and then with Mrs. Williams’ dry sniffles. Even if she was still dabbing at her eyes with that handkerchief, there were no more tears now.
“Okay, Madam. Here’s what we’ll do. I will need to discuss this with my wife–”
“O-Okay, sir,” said Mrs. Williams. I could hear more than a hint of glee in her voice.
“–And we’ll let you know our decision. I know it’s me you have asked to help, but I’m sure you know I can’t take this decision without my wife’s support. So, don’t worry,” said my father, exhaling as he rose to his feet. I suppose she took the hint and did the same, as she thanked my father profusely, showering blessings on him and my mother.
“No problem, Madam. Ma a ranse si yin. I’ll let you know before the middle of the week. Set your mind at ease, okay?”
“Daddy, e se gan-an o. God will continue to empower you and strengthen you, sir. You won’t use your eyes to shed tears over your children. God will continue to give you more and more wisdom, sir,” Mrs. Williams chirped sweetly. My father responded with “Amin,” at the end of each prayer.
As he walked her to the gate, he inquired after her daughter, Yele.
I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but I heard her say,
“–You know girls are easier. She tells me everything.”
And even then, I knew that couldn’t be true. No girl tells her mother everything especially girls of her age.
Still, Yele had gone through a lot of trouble to give her mother that impression.
However, I wasn’t concerned with Yele.
Tokunbo and the troubling news his mother had brought to us were foremost on my mind that afternoon.
Who would’ve thought? Quiet, supposedly shy Tokunbo was a terror in school.
“Looks can be deceiving,” I concluded.
After Mrs. Williams left, my father returned to his room, and the minute I heard the air-conditioner in their room come on, I knew he had started giving my mother the load-down of the Tokunbo-inspired gist.
Turning on the A/C was something my parents did whenever they wanted to have a truly private discussion in their room. The hum of the 2nd hand, Tokunbo A/C was usually effective at drowning their voices, especially since they had to shut the windows of their room for the cool air to circulate.
It did not occur to me to listen to my parents’ conversation. I knew what my father was going to tell my mother, anyway.
I sat downstairs, pretending to read a novel, waiting patiently for my mother’s reaction.
It came swiftly.
“Ki le wi?! Mentor tani? Nibo? Not in this house! Baba Yemi, I said not in this house!” she thundered.
I could hear my mother’s voice firing angry words at my father, blaming him, scolding him for even giving that woman audience.
“You should’ve driven her away with a stick! That’s how people drive away wild animals!”
“But Asake, aren’t you a mother? How can you talk like that?”
“Baba Yemi, yes, I am a mother. Abiyamo ni mi. But this woman is up to something. This is just a cover up for something else. Don’t you see it?”
“See what? You’re over-reacting, blowing things wayyy out of proportion, as usual. Thank God you stayed here.”
“What does that mean? Ehn, Baba Yemi? Or are you in cohorts with her? Are you planning to take a second wife? Abi, is that your plan? Like father, like son.”
“Asake, I’m not going to argue with you over this. I am tired of telling you that I’m nothing like my father.”
“So what is in this for you? Why don’t you just let her be? Doesn’t she have relatives who can mentor her own son? Don’t tell me she doesn’t have brothers or uncles or cousins or even pastors who can help her. Anyone else but you. Why must it be you, her neighbor?”
“There’s nothing in this for me. I have the opportunity to help re-direct and reform the life of a troubled young man and I will do it. You know me well, Asake. I will do it.”
“E pele o, Mr. Reform and Re-direct! Have you finished training your own sons?”
“Wo, Asake, leave this matter. I’m hungry. What are we going to eat this afternoon?”
“Food? With the matter on ground you still want to eat? See this man! Go and meet Mama Tokunbo to feed you, se gbo mi?” said my mother.
I heard the jingle of keys and the stomp of angry feet.
“Where are you going?” my father demanded.
“Oh, don’t you know? I’m going to the market, of course! I will go and buy a B-I-G sign board that says “Boys’ Reformatory Home” ehn … Then on my way back, I will call Rasaki, that useless carpenter who is a disgrace to his profession, to come and … Gbo! Gbo! Gbo!” said my mother imitating the sound of a hammer hitting a nail on wood, “–place the sign above our gate. And in a few days, that sign post will collapse like that rickety dining table Rasaki made for us. May it fall on your head and Iya Tokunbo’s head! Nonsense! E ka re o! Baba Reformatory.”
Then, she hissed and walked out.
As she neared the bottom of the stairs, she called my name and I responded. Glaring at me, she said:
“Oya you, come and open the gate for me. Do quick!”
I obeyed and watched her car disappear down the street in a fury of screeching wheels.
“E-n-i-t-a-n!” my father called.
“Sir!” I replied.
“Put water for eba on the fire for me. That efo your mother made three days ago, is it still remaining?” he called out from the top of the stairs.
“Warm it up for me, kia kia. Nobody will starve me in my own house.”
As I hurried to the kitchen to put my father’s meal together, there was only one person on my mind: Tokunbo.